Martin - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 32nd Annual Northern Nationals

The Top Fuel drivers were required to have the new- style protection shield behind the driver’s head beginning with this race. There were literally as many different styles of shields as there were competitors here. Of the 13 T/F cars on hand only two had the same style of shield. At least one team completed the fabrication of their shield after they arrived at the track.

Todd Paton
Although every driver had a story of what they had gone through to build or purchase their shield, Todd Paton had the best one. Because his chassis is a two-piece unit his team split the car behind the driver’s compartment and took only the front half of the car to New Jersey to have their shield constructed. Meanwhile the rear half, including the engine, clutch and differential, stayed home in their shop. This allowed the rest of the crew to service their drive line and prepare for this event without having to wait for the chassis to return.

Evan Knoll
Event sponsor Evan Knoll made his Top Fuel debut here in a former Bruce Litton car. Driving Bruce’s 2002 Gary Agan-built dragster, Evan licensed during the first two qualifying sessions and was able to attempt to qualify for this event during Saturday’s final qualifying session. His 5.135 elapsed time fell short of making the field. His only T/F testing prior to this event was cut short by weather.

Keith Stark
Keith Stark continued his nitrous education here. A 5.537 second elapsed time was sandwiched around two runs where he went up in smoke right off the line. Despite not qualifying Keith was encouraged by what he learned here. No parts were seriously damaged and he looks forward to competing at Norwalk in two weeks. Local Chevrolet dealer Todd Wenzel signed on as a sponsor for this event and will be on the car for Norwalk as well.

The Top Fuel field set an all-time IHRA record bump when it ended up at 4.845 seconds. Also, all eight of the US-131 professional elapsed time and speed records were reset this weekend.

Charles Carpenter
Pro Mod driver Charles Carpenter made his return to national event competition here driving his familiar 1955 Chevrolet. He crashed the car earlier this year when his spool broke at the 330 foot mark at Coastal Plains Dragway. Tommy Mauney, from TM Race Cars, repaired the car in seven weeks. Charles is grateful for the help that he received from Embee Performance and Pat Doherty Motorsports. A return this quickly would not have been possible without their help. Unfortunately, he did not qualify.

Tommy Gray
As has been widely reported, Pro Mod driver Von Smith had bypass surgery earlier this week. Von is expected to make a complete recovery but is out for at least 12 weeks, which effectively scrubs the rest of this season for him. Scrambling on short notice, the Lipar Racing Team arranged for former Pro Mod driver Tommy "The Undertaker" Gray to replace Von behind the wheel beginning with this race. After some modifications to the car Tommy made three attempts at getting into the field but came up short. One trackside wag volunteered that the last driver he would want to be replaced by if he had a heart attack was "The Undertaker."

Josh Hernandez
Meanwhile, Josh Hernandez did much better in his debut as the driver of the Lipar Funny Car that was driven last year by Von Smith. Josh, who is team owner Tommy Lipar’s nephew, improved with every run and qualified for the field. He recorded his best elapsed time of the weekend, a 6.046, in his first round loss. The car sports a spectacular black paint job that is adorned with green flames.

Medusa, who normally does the top end TV interviews for the Speed Network IHRA shows, was kept away from this event by bad weather. In her place “Nurse” Tiffany, another Lipar team member, filled in for the absent Medusa.

Tim Stevens
Local racer Tim Stevens made his debut here in a Funny Car. He lost his Alcohol Dragster in a trailer fire last year. After considering hanging it up, he decided to come back, but in a funny car. He qualified 14th here before losing in the first round.

Frank Gugliotta
Frank Gugliotta Frank, "The Flying Meatball," Gugliotta earned his first-ever national event win here when he went to his first-ever IHRA national event final round. His weekend didn’t start off nearly as well when the team’s truck driver was not able to make the Martin trip due to a work conflict. Luckily, they were able to hitch a ride in the rig of Top Sportsman driver Ronnie Proctor. As a result of this, the Steve Thodos-owned team spent the weekend working out of an easy-up tent situated next to Ronnie’s trailer.